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The International Writers Magazine: Happy Families

• Brian Appleton
So when you fall in love and get married you never think to ask your fiancée what political affiliation she has and probably less likely to ask what party her parents belong to, so you can imagine as an old lefty what a shock it was to find out they were all heavy Scotch drinking Republicans who had given more money to the NRA and the Republican Campaign Finance Committee than to their own children.

'What Are You Going To Do About it?'

I remember the first time I visited their house I noticed there were no books except for a few coffee table ones like San Francisco From Above, where as in my parent's home there were about ten thousand books on every subject under the sun and moon and in several languages. My future father in law having met me only once before for less than an hour looks at me and says so "what is Cocaine like?" as he poured himself a Scotch. I said "Why are you asking me?"

I remember one summer I went with my wife to Belgium to see where she had lived as a child and we took a side trip to Aachen and I showed her the Charlemagne Museum and the Cathedral and that famous jewel encrusted cloisonné bust of Charlemagne you always see photos of. She said "I never knew all this was here. When we lived in Liege we only drove over here to Aachen to buy cold cuts."

My wife never consented to go with me to Italy even though I had grown up there and lived there for 13 years all told. She treated Italy like a former lover of mine she was jealous of and wanted nothing to do with my past, but rather wanted us to build some common future together. It turned out she disliked Italy because she and her family had gone to Rome during August when all the Romans are at the beach and roves of Italian style hillbillys had come in from the countryside to harass tourist girls around all the tourist spots like the Trevi Fountain. While in Rome several of these hooligans came up and pinched her 18 year old butt right in front of her family, as a result she had no use for Italy.

One summer her parents invited us to stay in their time share with them in Waikiki. My older son and I were snorkeling and grampa was holding my younger son who is intellectually handicapped in his lap. When we came on shore, grampa proudly told me he had slapped my younger son for throwing sand in his face with this look at me like "what are you going to do about it?" I said nothing.

Another time we were all at my younger sister in law's house in Laguna Nigel for the Fourth of July and they kept watching the film of her wedding over and over. My younger son got bored and kept opening and closing the front door trying to get someone to pay attention to him. He was about four or five years old at the time. Finally the old man well into his cups by now roared at him "If you open and close that door one more time, I am going to rip your arm out of your body!" At this point we politely said we needed to leave and drove all the way back to San Jose in the dark along the coast with fire works going off in every town along the way.

I remember one time when my wife was pregnant in the first trimester her mother made her walk all around some shopping mall in McLean, Virginia. When she got back to their house, she miscarried. My father in law invited me to go with him to the hardware store. I said "do you realize what just happened?" He said indifferently "these things happen, that is nature's way of eliminating fetuses with defects."

The in-laws valued stoicism except when it applied to themselves of course. They were the type who had hit their kids with belt buckles growing up and expected them to never be sick and to go to school anyway. My father in law had apparently worked his way through mining school in Montana biting the nuts off sheep on a ranch.

They had given us one bed for our wedding because it was my wife's second marriage so they felt no obligation to do more. They were living up to the stereotype about Scotsmen, but on their little darling's wedding, who is the perfect embodiment of all their Republican ideals, she had had a wedding that might have rivaled Princess Di's at their expense. They were proud of their physical prowess in the bedroom because she had been born 18 years after their other children. For her wedding they rented out the Balboa Bay Club which is where the Republican presidents stay when they visit Southern California. It is in Newport Beach. As a leftist I felt like a fish out of water. They also rented out John Wayne's former yacht which had been converted from a mine sweeper. I think it was called the "Grey Goose." Oh that's vodka. I guess it was the "Wild Goose." Anyway my father in law must have invited 200 business guests of his own to show off to. He danced with his daughter most of the night while his ass kiss suck up son-in-law waited politely by the side of the dance floor saying nothing. I wondered if the old man was going to give himself a heart attack the way he was carrying on.

We knew no one at all except for the aunt with dementia who was my father-in-law's sister whom they had tried to get my wife to agree to take care of during the event which she refused to do. The aunt had earlier been found walking naked down the street of her town. So only as an afterthought thought they had invited her son and his Chinese American wife to come to the wedding to chaperone her. Her son was an ex marine who later "fell" off the top of his office building where he worked. I attended his funeral.

The groom's brother decided as a toast to give him a roasting which was mean spirited and made up of inside jokes that I had no way of understanding.

The high point of the cruise reception for me was later in the evening when everyone was so drunk that they never knew the captain had let my intellectual handicapped younger son take over steering the ship up and down the inland channel.

The bridesmaids at the princess's wedding had all been picture "perfect" in everyway and identically dressed looking like the stewardesses off an Scandinavian Airlines plane all tall thin and blonde except for a short dark haired dumpy girl on the end, but she was a lawyer so that was OK. I kept wondering who this army of WASPS were and how my sister in law had come to know so many boring people.
My sister-in-law had this nasty habit of always giving you business advice when the only job she ever had since her marriage was a couple days a week in an infant day care center. Before that in high school she had worked in a gift shop in the WASP suburb of Moraga over in God's Country separated from the heathens and gays in Babylon by the Bay by the Caldecott Tunnel.

She lived in a huge house, biggest of all out of the four siblings. Her middle sister had become a Berkeley radical and lived in a distressed house the Oakland school district had given teacher's at a special discount. Her first wedding had been at my in laws house in Moraga at the time. She had married an ex convict as a show of rebellion and my father in law had sustained his first heart attack when the friends of the bride and groom were fornicating on the roof and front lawn during the reception and her grandfather had also suffered an angina attack that same night.

The way that my sister-in-law and her husband had come by the huge house had something to do with his mother's habit of marrying old widowers right before they died and receiving their estates and assets. She finally got hers though coming home drunk from a bingo party by running over a quadriplegic in a motorized chair and being charged with manslaughter in her 80's. I can't remember if she had to do jail time as it was all very hush hush of course since my in laws wouldn't spill the beans on one of their peers.

Every time they had a time share week in Kauai or Waikiki they would see to it that one of my wife's other siblings got to use it, but never us, and the same went for their frequent flyer's mileage points. My wife worked and had had a serious career so that counted against her in a world where married women were not supposed to have to work. Every time my father-in-law had a convention to go to for his trade association hosted by one of its members whether it was in Tokyo or Rio do Janeiro or Rome, the princess and her lackey husband got to go with them at my in-law's expense. I remember when they were trying to decide where to hold the convention in Rome my father-in-law suddenly remembered that I had grown up in Rome and asked for my advice, which was probably a unique event. I suggested the Calvaliere Hilton as it was up on a hill overlooking Rome away from the traffic and with plenty of parking.

On that trip my in-laws took the princess and her husband to Siena where I had lived for three years which was a fact that had been completely ignored and they sat in the Café Fonte Gaea drinking aperitifs while the young couple climbed the famous tower of city hall.

A year later at the princess's wedding when I asked him how it had gone in Rome, he said rather absent mindedly "Oh yeah, you lived in Italy didn't you?"

The princess's husband was one of those old boy network amiable types who never revealed anything of himself or his real feelings towards you ever but was great with kids and his fraternity buddies and he rose through the ranks of Oracle. He was blond and blue eyed and a perfect son of Orange County who had worked as a docent at Disneyland during high school and as life guard at the country club during college and probably as a caddy too... and had earned his MBA on line.

Once only once had we let our in-laws babysit our two small children at the time upon their insistence which my wife could never stand up to. We went out to one of my business functions at which I was the MC only to return to a scene from a Fellini movie dream sequence. The house was quiet and the kids were asleep at the TV. There was some vague soft and silent motion coming from what we called the ball pit. It was one of those inflatable pens filled with tennis ball sized plastic balls of many colors that children liked to play in. As my eyes adjusted to the eerie light level cast in the darkness by the TV I saw a tall ghostlike figure in white underwear huddled over another elongated ghostlike figure in white underwear lying prone in the ball pit. The one in the superior position was my father-in-law futilely trying to lift his spouse out of the ball pit in which she lay drunk only he was too drunk to do it and a few seconds after we had entered in on the scene had collapsed on top of her. That was the last time we let them baby sit.

Their son had failed out of UCLA and at a high paying reporters job for some business journal right out of college which he had eventually finished at San Jose State. He, like all his siblings, had unconsciously accepted the rules that no one was allowed to outshine their father who was a world authority on light metals. My brother-in-law eventually made a career and rose within the ranks of an office partition and office furniture global installation company after spending years working at furniture moving companies with his old beer drinking frat boy buddies from San Jose State.

He married "beneath him" to a girl at the moving company and my in-laws looked down at her family and friends at their wedding all except for one uncle who was a county judge who lived in a big house in the best part of town. I had loaned my brother-in-law to be a 1000 little dollars for his wedding and my wife and I offered to make the hors d'oeuvres to help them out. We were living in a little condo at the time. My in-laws arrived at the scene and tried to take over our preparations. First off my father in law said "If my son fails to make good on your loan, I will cover for him" which was not an expression of any confidence in his own son to say the least. Next my mother-in-law tried to take over the kitchen and at one point started slapping my wife in front of me. I got between my wife and mother in law and stood facing her and told her that if she hit my wife again that I would throw her out of my house.

All my brother-in-laws children were raised strict in the family tradition. I remember when they were little their father kicking their hands out from under them while they were doing the push ups he had ordered and then laughing when they fell on their faces. He can't afford to send them to college so they are all enlisting in the military.

My wife for the going on 33 years I have known her has only now that her mother is in her 90's started to learn how to stand up to the exploitative, manipulative diabolical old witch. For decades every time I saw my wife on the phone with her mother she would revert to a little girl being scolded. Always afterward getting off the phone she would come away licking her wounds and complaining about what slight or wrong her mother had committed against her like it was the first time it had ever happened and she was in dismay.

So how had things gotten so bad between us? When my father-in-law died I heaved a sigh of relief because I knew that at least now he couldn't hurt my wife any further. He had left in his will that he wanted his ashes scattered from the top of Mount Diablo ( devil mountain was a good place for him). His little grand children had no idea what was going on, or what the ashes we were scattering were as this took place a year after his demise and funeral on the East Coast. They were playing and frolicking in the ashes like kids in a garden hose on a hot summer's day. It is the only time I can recall that he brought joy to them.

When we were living in Manhattan, every holiday they demanded we drive or fly down to McLean, Virginia across from Langley and the CIA where they had moved for his second job in retirement to spend the holidays with them since they knew no one outside of his work. I had in vane introduced then to my parents' friends from the Corps of Engineers but my mother-in-law never followed up and expected them to invite her and not the other way around.

It got to where I knew every exit between New York City and McLean on I-95 by heart I drove it so many times. So then we moved back to California and they stayed on in McLean and we figured we were finally free of them. But along came the holidays and my wife and first born son who was all we had at the time flew out to join them. I was to catch up with them a week later as I could not get that much time away from work.

One morning I got a phone call from my wife telling me not to bother coming as she and my older son were coming home early. She went on to tell me that my mother-in-law had hit my son in front of her. We went on a rant on the phone calling them every foul name we could think of under the sun and heaven for an hour.

The next morning my mother-in-law came to my wife and said, we didn't listen but please erase the recording. Apparently our entire conversation had been recorded by some malfunction of the answering machine. For ten years after that we were never invited back or on any of their trips or to use any of their time share weeks and we would find out on purpose that they had been in and out of town visiting the other siblings without telling us and taking them to expensive restaurants. They gave them their time share weeks and took them on expensive trips to other countries but 90% of that was reserved for their little darling the princess who was created in the very likeness and image of my mother-in-law aka the Duchess of Moraga or Queen Irene. One day several decades later she asked me to drive her somewhere in her Navy Blue Cadillac for the first time in history and I knew that on some level she had gotten over it.
I know that the Queen's stock was from West Virginia before Montana and that they had either been the Hatfield's or the McCoy's, I can never remember which.
© Brian Appleton June 2015

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